to Science Forum
21st Century Science Denial
This series of articles was adapted from originals written in 2011 by
Deborah Kopald MBA* in response to Felicity Barringer’s New
York Times coverage of the anti-smart meter movement.
I: Psychopolitical Paranoia
The day after I wrote a column, “Smart Meters a Dumb Idea,”
the New York Times ran a very similar piece, “New
Electricity Meters Stir Fears.” The article covered many of
the points I had made in mine: smart meter opposition cuts across party
lines from liberals to libertarians to the Tea Party; Maine and California
have “opt outs” in place; and advocates oppose the meters
on privacy and health grounds. The article’s author, Felicity Barringer,
who is usually the Times’ media writer, wrote the Times’ Green
Blog a couple days later. In her follow-up piece called “Are
We Hard-Wired to Doubt Science?” Barringer questioned the rationality
of some of the smart meter interview subjects from her previous day’s
some very intelligent
people I interviewed had little use for the existing (if sparse) science.
How, in a rational society, does one understand those who reject science,
a common touchstone of what is real and verifiable
On its face her statement
appeared to make sense. As I have discussed, it never ceases to amaze
me how people ignore decades of science on radiofrequency radiation and
the scientific evidence linking cell phone use to brain tumors, cognitive
effects, ADHD, sperm count decreases and tinnitus. Then I saw the context.
Barringer went on to argue:
of scientific evidence doesn’t dissuade those who believe childhood
vaccines are linked to autism, or those who believe their headaches,
dizziness and other symptoms are caused by cellphones and smart meters.
And the presence of large amounts of scientific evidence doesn’t
convince those who reject the idea that human activities are disrupting
To Barringer, people
who questioned the safety of cell phones were on the fringe and were gripped
by an excessive paranoia that itself could be explained scientifically.
She cited a consultant who studies “perception” of risk:
are hard-wired to reject scientific conclusions that run counter to
their instinctive belief that someone or something is out to get them.”
Here are some things
Barringer would have found out if she had investigated the rationales
for peoples’ belief that cell phones are unsafe, and consulted actual
scientists instead of someone who reduces people’s perception of
risk to the fight-or-flight response. As early as 1962, G.E. Engineer
Allen Frey showed that pulsed microwave radiation (emitted by wireless
devices and antennae) affect cell membranes and can breach the blood-brain
barrier, thereby allowing toxins to penetrate the specialized blood vessels
that ordinarily protect the brain from toxins in the body’s bloodstream.
The U.S. wireless industry itself conducted a series of studies in the
early 1990s that documented genetic damage at levels below the
current safety limits set by the Federal Communications Commission.
The industry studies also found a dose-response risk of acoustic neuroma
with more than six years of cell phone use and a doubling of brain cancer
These studies were discontinued after the wireless industry was informed
of the results. At that time, biophysicist Henry Lai PhD and biologist
N.P. Singh MD at the University of Washington also reported double-strand
DNA breaks from cell phone radiation on animal cells. Their findings were
confirmed in studies of human cells by biochemist Jerry Phillips PhD.
There have been multiple studies since confirming DNA breaks in human
cells from exposure to cell phone radiation.
research work that points to safety hazards from cell phones:
studies conducted by Lennart Hardell of Sweden that suggest a 420 percent
increase in brain tumors for people who regularly used cell phones before
age 20 and a doubling of the risk of glioma or acoustic neuroma for
adults on the same side of the head as the cell phone was used.
• A team led by Gursatej-Gandhi in India found genetic damage
up to 10 times higher in the tissues of regular cell phone users than
in the tissues of non-cell phone users.
• Agarwal et al. found that men who use a cell phone four hours
a day or more experience a 59 percent decline in sperm count and a higher
risk of testicular cancer.
• Divan et al. found that children who regularly use cell phones
or whose mothers used cell phones when pregnant with these children
had high rates of attention deficit disorder.
• Hutter, Moshammer et al. found that the risk of tinnitus doubled
after four years of continual cell phone use.
• Salford et al. found that rats exposed for only two hours to
GSM (European standard) mobile phones at levels 16 to 160 times lower
than U.S. radiation exposure limits experienced the death of 2 percent
of their brain cells.
It is disturbingly
clear that Barringer herself is in fact the otherwise intelligent person
who has “little use for science” whom she purported to describe.
Instead of detouring into the political psychology and scientific underpinnings
of paranoia, she should have examined the political forces (corporate
interests) in this country that have caused science to be suppressed and
policy to be perverted.
Part II: The
Politics of Cell Phone Radiation
In Part I, I gave some snapshots of the
cell phone science that The New York Times media reporter Felicity
Barringer believes only exists in the minds of Luddites and the paranoid
Here are some other
recent events that should convince even the hardened skeptic that cell
phones are a problem:
* In 2000, the German company T-Mobil commissioned an 86-page report,
“Mobile Telcommunications and Health: A Review of the Current Scientific
Research in View of Precautionary Health Protection,” that surveyed
the literature and acknowledged negative health consequences of cell phone
* Congress held hearings in 2008 and 2009 on cell phone safety that featured
testimony by scientists linking cell phones to brain tumors, acoustic
neuromas, parotid gland tumors and impaired fertility among other negative
* In April 2009, the European Union passed a resolution stipulating that
wireless transmitters should be kept away from schools, retirement homes
and health care institutions and calling for awareness-raising campaigns
to familiarize young Europeans with the health risks associated with wireless
* In September 2010, the epidemiologist Devra Davis reported that cell
phone companies had been denied reinsurance for health-related claims
after the Austrian government-commissioned studies that found 200 to 400
percent increases in abnormalities of cell phone-exposed blood and showed
that people’s test scores dropped after being exposed to 2G and
3G cell phone radiation.
* In the last five years, public campaigns in the UK resulted in 15 percent
of people getting landlines who had previously been wireless-only households.
Israel warned its citizens not to abandon their landlines, and researchers
at the Indian Institute of Technology warned people not to use their cell
phones more than six minutes per day because the brain has a “high
risk of getting affected by radiation.”
The U.S. government officially has studied electromagnetic radiation at
the lower power line frequencies and the armed forces have conducted classified
studies on microwave and other radiofrequency radiation for decades. But
official study of these frequencies has stalled in the US:
* In 1990, the EPA proposed classifying EMFs from power lines and household
appliances as a Class B carcinogen as it had done with formaldehyde, DDTs,
dioxin and PCB’s, but the effort was rebuffed politically.
* Shortly thereafter, our federal government stopped funding bioelectromagnetics
research, but by 1999, authorized a study of cell phone radiation and
other radiofrequency radiation (through the National Institute of Environmental
Health Science’s National Toxicology Program) that only got started
this year – 11 years after it was commissioned.
* The National Toxicology Program recently announced that the study, which
had been commissioned because the Radiofrequency Interagency Working Group
(a federal interagency working group including the FDA, FCC, OSHA the
EPA and others) stated that existing safety limits for pulsed radiofrequency
radiation were “not protective of public health,” could not
be expected before 2014.
While the U.S. has dragged its feet, governments around the world have
issued advisories on cell phones or other wireless technologies, while
the FCC website claims the FCC relies on the FDA for information on the
health effects of radiological devices, but the FDA doesn’t study
them and gave the cell phone a free pass onto the market.
Also filling the void of the U.S. federal government are municipal and
state governments and independent scientists. In July 2008, Dr. Ronald
Herberman of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Center wrote a memo to
staff there advising restricted use of cell phones. In June 2010, the
city of San Francisco passed legislation requiring point-of-sale radiation
disclosure of cell phones (since put under injunction by the legal maneuvering
of cell phone industry lobbyists), and similar legislation is pending
in the state of Pennsylvania and Maine.
Two state governments have issued cautionary statements on other forms
of electromagnetic radiation:
* In 1987, the New York Power Lines Project confirmed findings of epidemiological
studies done in the 1970s linking childhood leukemia and brain cancer
to electromagnetic fields from power lines.
* The California Department of Health Services released a report in 2002
that found that added risk of miscarriage, childhood leukemia, brain cancer
and greater incidence of suicide was associated with exposure to electric
and magnetic fields such as those that radiate from power lines and electrical
appliances. Investigators found an “increased lifetime risk of childhood
leukemia, adult brain cancer, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (known
as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease).”
Besides the National Toxicology Program, which will exist 15 years before
its first study is done, the President’s Cancer Panel, appointed
by George Bush, weighed in on the problem of electromagnetic radiation
and proliferating devices saying, “. . . the true burden of environmentally
induced cancers has been grossly underestimated,” and “It
is vitally important to recognize that children are far more susceptible
to damage from environmental carcinogens” and “. . . the most
urgent issue that we need to address . . . is whether children or adolescents
using cell phones (and other wireless devices) are at increased risk.”
* By 2011, the NIH found that talking on a cell phone for 50 minutes resulted
in rapid glucose uptake in an area of the brain linked with judgment and
impulse control. (The NIH was 10 years later than the Europeans to the
cell phone-health effects-study party and almost 2 decades behind U.S.
industry studies that have found links to tumors and DNA breakage from
Later in the year, the Council of Europe (CoE) stated that immediate action
was required to protect children from wireless networks and cell phones,
and the World Health Organization (WHO) categorized the radiofrequency
radiation coming from wireless devices and transmitters as a class 2b
carcinogen, putting wireless emissions in the same category as diesel
exhaust and DDT.
With public awareness
of the scientific evidence of harm mounting, the only way that wireless
companies can continue doing business as usual is to obscure the truth
by denying independent science, cherry-picking the data and designing
their own studies that omit key variables. The industry has correctly
calculated that people will not notice that over 70% of independent studies
show problems with wireless technologies while only 25% of industry studies
do, and that the public will rely on what passes for journalism these
days– a “he-said”, “she said” media that
reports industry pronouncements verbatim as if they are equally valid
to those of independent scientists, or indeed, even remotely truthful.
The rise and domination of wireless gadgets is only possible through a
whole separate cottage industry of misinformation coupled with the public’s
increasing technological addiction– an addiction that can best be
summed up by ‘Morpheus’ of the Matrix movies, “You have
to understand that many of them are not ready to be unplugged and many
of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they
will fight to protect it.”
Rise of the Machines
As for smart meters and other wireless devices, the U.S. has
not pre-market safety tested any of them and has not conducted any studies
on Wi-Fi, cell towers, or the "smart" grid, while 80 percent
of international studies show negative health effects to those who live
up to a quarter-mile from cell towers.
Before cell towers were rolled out, the peer-reviewed scientific literature
showed sleep, cardiovascular, neurological and metabolic problems for
people who lived near other microwave-emitting towers like tv broadcast
and air traffic control towers, radar installations and even radiofrequency-emitting
radio towers. In part, because the cell network relies on what are effectively
two-way radio handheld devices to communicate with the towers, more microwave
transmitters at closer intervals are required to run wireless networks
than these older radiation-emitting transmission systems needed. Even
more towers are required now that the government has permitted telecom
companies to enable people to transmit not only phone calls wirelessly,
but endless amounts of data and video, which should be transmitted by
wire or cable instead.
Back in 1993, the California Public Utilities Commission had recommended
siting towers away from schools and hospitals (by extension, that guidance
should have included residences, since children and vulnerable populations
also reside there). Independent scientists suggested that towers should
be set at least a quarter-mile away-- the approximate distance for the
power density to level off; by 2009, the EU stipulated that towers should
be kept away from schools, hospitals and old-age homes.
The first question people should have asked themselves when Wi-Fi was
rolled out is how does this radiation compare to a tower? A layperson
with a rudimentary grasp of physics but an inquisitive mind would have
understood that proximity to the transmitter is the larger factor in radiation
exposure than total power output. Per the math (verifiable by measurement),
ubiquitously Wi-Fi-ed institutions expose many of their inhabitants to
more radiation than they would get picnicking close to a cell tower. Even
with the relatively lower-powered Wi-Fi in homes, people’s cumulative
exposure from regular use of Wi-Fi exceeds the exposure most of them are
getting from most cell towers.
So why would anyone have permitted the ubiquitous rollout of a technology
(Wi-Fi) that would expose many people to more radiation than they would
get from even a cell tower that was poorly sited (not at a distance per
early precautionary warnings)? While it is understandable that the public
believes that anything that is legally sold has been properly vetted for
safety, blame should squarely be laid at the feet of the managers of institutions--schools
and private and public sector offices-- for deferring to their IT departments
and not inquiring into the sense of exposing building occupants to microwave
radiation all day.
In any event, many didn't notice the transmitters going on their rooftops
and on the walls and ceilings of their offices, schools and public buildings
or grasp the implications of bringing transmitters in closer to human
environments. While cell phones obviously present the most intense exposures,
people are not exposed to them continually; indeed a 2009 Swiss study
showed that on average, people moving in and out of urban areas got more
cumulative exposure from transmitters than from their cell phones. Nevertheless,
cell phone use, as previously discussed, is linked with a host of problems
from cancers, to concentration problems and headaches. It isn't hard to
connect the dots and realize that extra cumulative radiation - indeed
extra radiation that exceeds what people are getting from their daily
use of a cell phone - presents a public health problem.
Smart meters, wireless meters that are like mini-cell towers placed on
the side of people’s homes (in lieu of meter readers), are perhaps
the most noticeable devices to be rolled out exposing the public to an
involuntary continual stream of microwave radiofrequency radiation. The
perceived involuntary nature of the exposure, sanctioned by the government
((and indeed a number of "environmental" groups like EDF (one
of their trustees is married to a venture capitalist who is profiting
handsomely from forced transmitter rollout), as is Al Gore-- an “Inconvenient
Truth” if ever there were one)) and the Sierra Club, which should
know better, adds to the grief that people get from having a smart meter
forced onto the side of their homes.
The relative health impact of any device is going to depend upon how much
and how often you use it/ are exposed to it and how close you are to it.
People are focused on the smart meter because it creates a more obviously
involuntary exposure, and depending on its relative location to the areas
you frequent (bedroom, office), it can make you very sick, very quickly.
However, many who are concerned about smart meters are using Wi-Fi, and
in many cases, their cumulative exposure from regular use of Wi-Fi will
exceed that of the radiation from the smart meter. In the most extreme
situations (depending on its location), the smart meter could expose the
house dweller to 100x as much radiation as their Wi-Fi router. In addition,
the smart meter emits high-intensity spikes that are particularly disruptive
to human physiology. Together these exposures are cumulative. Neither
Wi-Fi nor a smart meter should be in or on your home if you want to protect
yourself from excessive radiation exposure and/or if you buy the aforementioned
concept that you shouldn't be dwelling near a cell tower. Either Wi-Fi
or smart meter exposure will expose people on average to more cumulative
radiation than their cell phone use will.
Again, if the smart meter is on the other side of your headboard, the
smart meter could expose you to even more intense radiation than you would
get from speaking on a cell phone; so the exposure could be worse than
if you had a cell phone on by your head all night. Certainly, if France
and India are telling their citizens not to use a cell phone more than
6 minutes per day, and only a half hour a day is linked with significant
brain tumor increases, nobody should be forced to sleep with a smart meter
on the other side of the wall. Per my last article, our government has
no standards for continual exposure -- (the German government encourages
people to limit their cumulative exposure and not install wireless, microwave-emitting
technologies in their homes.) The answer to the question, “how far
away is safe enough?” is that there is no safe level of exposure
and that peoples’ individual thresholds for permanent harm will
Certainly, it is better if the smart meter is farther away from you, but
the home can create hotspots that expose people to even more radiation
than the lax FCC limits, underscoring the point that there are no
safe limits. In terms of the radiofrequency interference problem, people
with pacemakers or other medical implants are told by utilities (only
after being directly asked) to avoid the wall in the house where the smart
meter is located. What is indisputable is that smart meters (and by extension
the governments that are allowing them to be mandated) create levels of
radiation in some people’s houses that are higher than ones already
linked to statistically significant levels of disease from cell phones
or cell towers.
Precautionary Principle has been invoked by governments that have
called for restricted use of wireless devices and infrastructure and is
the rationale for moratoriums on smart meters. (Opt-outs don't do the
Precautionary Principle justice as people still get passive radiation
from their neighbors' smart meters and apartment building dwellers can
be exposed to banks of meters which multiply the total amount of radiation).
In any event, we are way beyond precaution at this juncture. This brings
me back to Felicity Barringer’s New York Times columns.
Barringer pointed out that opposition was growing to smart meters. Two
days later, she dismissed opponents of smart meters and cell phones
as anti-science hypochondriacs.
I emailed Elisa Boxer-Cook, a smart meter opponent in Maine referenced
in the original article and Emmy-award winning journalist herself (she
was formerly the main anchor of the ABC affiliate in Portland). Her reaction:
"I am surprised and disappointed that The New York Times
allowed something so clearly biased to be published, without vetting it
for fairness and objectivity." Felicity [Barringer] interviewed me
for this story … and it was extremely clear to me … that she
had her mind made up … Her arguments here seem to be coming from
the industry playbook: paint the opposition as anti-technology."
Maine has since offered the option to opt out of smart meters.
Barringer's analysis of the smart meter opponents' "cultural resistance"
to "the hierarchist status quo" is utterly beside the point.
Besides the hotspots, the federal Interagency Working Group on Radiofrequency
Radiation states that the safety limits on pulsed RFR (emitted by smart
meters, Wi-Fi, phones and other wireless devices) are not protective of
human health, and the cumulative effect of all the other proliferating
sources of RFR is likely a problem. The National Academy of Sciences wrote
a report in 2008 suggesting that dangerous hotspots could be created by
all this radiation around metal - this includes not only furniture in
our homes, but metal on our bodies including brassiere underwires, piercings,
braces, jewelry, glasses, hair fasteners, belt buckles, shoes and medical
implant devices. Norbert Hankin, a then-EPA official, stated over a decade
ago that no long-term standards for exposure to radiofrequency radiation
even exist. In the absence of standards for long-term cumulative exposure,
why is the government subsidizing the rollout of a wireless smart grid?
Indeed, why did the FCC announce that landlines would be phased out in
certain areas, especially when Congress already held two sets of hearings
questioning the safety of cell phones?
Besides the aforementioned technologies and cordless phones, Bluetooth
and baby monitors (which are also adding to peoples' lifetime cumulative
exposure to microwave radiation), the FCC has been promoting Distributed
Antenna Systems (DAS) to replace wired landlines and wired internet via
DSL or cable modem. DAS are the next generation cell towers, and even
though they are lower powered than most towers, their proximity to people’s
homes means that they are exposing people to more radiation than cell
towers. Government promotion of DAS is preventing the marketplace from
being incentivized to use and develop safe, non 2b-carcinogen-emitting
technologies that could be transmitting utility information by wire.
Besides the DAS fiasco, our other "smart" devices are turning
into high-powered hotspots, further collapsing the distinction between
a phone and a transmitter, and hidden transmitters are being put in city
parks and bus stops. (Interestingly, the mayor of NYC has promoted 2b-carcinogen-emitting
transmitters in parks while vigorously fighting public exposure to large
portions of sugary soft drinks and smoking outdoors at the beach.) The
smart meter is the transmitting device that evokes the most public outrage
- and understandably so, since the government is effectively forcing them
on private property, and the fact that they are exposing some people continually
to more radiation than many people are getting from these other sources
individually, if not cumulatively. If Barringer can't get the smart meter
story right, don't hold your breath for The New York Times (or
the rest of the mainstream media for that matter) to untangle the rest
of the story of the Rise of the (microwave radiation-emitting) Machines.
Many scientists believe
that exposure to radiation from wireless devices and transmitters is trumping
smoking and second-hand smoking as a current public health crisis; some
have publicly stated that this problem is more serious to human health
than global warming. An analysis of the relative health impacts of these
problems over time over the whole population is complicated and goes beyond
the scope of this piece. It is viscerally apparent to those who have either
gotten head cancers from their cell phones, or have developed electro-hypersensitivity
-- a number that an advisor to the UK Health Protection Agency estimates
to be about 10% of the population to date --from exposure to Wi-Fi, smart
phones, smart meters, another source or from some combination thereof
-- that wireless devices and transmitters are a clear and present danger.
Ironically, these technologies are being falsely touted as solving the
global warming problem. ((Like smart meters, which do not reduce greenhouse
gas (GHG) useage, smartphones are called “green” when in fact
it was reported (by The New York Times!) that the data server
farms used to house the data and make it available for on-demand wireless
transmission creates more GHG than the pulp and paper industry it is supposed
to be supplanting.))
For those still in disbelief that this oft-quoted newspaper could have
gotten it so wrong, let me point out what happened the last time this
country publicly recognized a health crisis caused by electromagnetic
radiation. From the 1970's until 1987, Suffolk County, NY passed historic
legislation protecting its county workers from video display terminals
(VDTs); these data entry computer terminals were being used by clerks,
airline reservationists and newspaper workers and were causing miscarriages,
stillbirths and birth defects to pregnant workers. Other workers got eyestrain
from VDT radiation. After Suffolk's Law and a report by Kaiser Permanente,
the VDTs were yanked off the market and redesigned to be relatively safe...but
not before the The New York Times wrote an editorial pooh-poohing
the science, while simultaneously fending off a lawsuit by its own workers,
who complained of ill-health from VDTs.
Unfortunately while VDTs were wired devices and could be redesigned to
cancel out currents and magnetic fields, the current spate of problems
cannot be fixed this way; wireless radiation radiates out into space and
the current set of devices interact with an array of fixed transmitters.
The only way to protect the public's health is to reduce exposure. The
government needs to be told (repeatedly, apparently) to stop allowing
its regulated utilities to mandate microwave radiation-emitting transmitters
on people’s homes. Neither the government nor the Felicity Barringers
and The New York Times' of the world will act in the public interest
unless enough of us stand up to terminate the belief that our health is
less important than the machines that are driving the corporate bottom
Deborah Kopald (BA, Harvard; MBA, MIT Sloan School of Management) is an
environmental health and public policy advocate who has authored numerous
articles and a forthcoming book about electromagnetic pollution. She developed
and oversaw the promotion of successful legislative initiatives at the
local, and county and state levels in New York State, has addressed 35
offices of Congress, has appeared as an expert guest on television and
radio programs, and has been an invited speaker at SUNY campuses, Rotary
Clubs, parents groups, two county legislatures, the NY State Senate, the
Association of Towns and various municipal governments. She received an
award from Orange Environment in October, 2011 for her public education
efforts and advocacy of transmitter-free zones.
to Science Forum